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Sir William Garrow- His Life, Times and Fight for Justice by John Hostettler and Richard Braby
THE REDISCOVERED LOST ADVOCATE
An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
As Geoffrey Robertson QC points out in the foreword to this now wildly popular biography of the lost advocate from Waterside Press - following the recent television series - William Garrow was the first great cross examiner at the English Bar who ‘truly can be said to have revolutionized the practice of criminal law’.
Before Garrow, (an advocate at an earlier incarnation of the “Old Bailey” for 10 years from 1783), the supposedly admirable edifice of English law which had evolved over several centuries, was deeply flawed. When Garrow began his practice, those charged with capital felony “could not be represented by counsel” – a state of affairs that would be deemed unimaginably appalling today.
Even while this ancient anomaly was breaking down, counsel were still not allowed to address the jury on the prisoner’s behalf. Garrow, almost singlehandedly we surmise, with his trenchant and aggressive adversarial skills, persuaded juries to acquit his often hapless clients, winning battles for them against unscrupulous bounty hunters whose income derived mainly from the blood money they ‘earned’ in accusing the innocent of crimes.
The authors’ stated purpose in the publication of this biography is ‘to introduce the reader to the life of a remarkable man in the context of his time and family…and secondly to present him as the criminal lawyer who led the way in altering the whole relationship between the state and the individual by his role in the revolutionary introduction of adversary trial.’
Garrow helped revolutionise criminal trial procedure – a process of which he, and certainly his contemporaries, were only dimly aware, but which would lead inevitably to reinforcing and extending the principles of justice and fair treatment which are at the heart of current human rights legislation. As the authors have observed, “adversariality”, ‘with its lasting impact on worldwide jurisprudence has been ‘a contributing factor in the establishment of a culture of human rights’.
So, even if you’ve seen the excellent TV series, do read this 170 page book anyway and immerse yourself in the wealth of factual information and comment in the 17 chapters which will give you breadth to the birth of modern advocacy. Much of the information in the 3 appendices sources at the back has been gleaned from original documents, many quoted verbatim and there is an excellent timeline which gives biographical perspective.
Also, there are startling insights into Garrow’s family life and any number of references made to the social and political issues of the time in which he was involved and the injustices against which he fought, from slavery to animal cruelty.
Following his ten year career as a young barrister of note, Garrow became a Member of Parliament and later Solicitor General, Attorney General, judge and lawmaker. As Attorney General, it was Garrow who had overall responsibility for the trial and conviction in 1817 of John Hannay, a slave trader, after the passage of the Slave Trade Abolition Act of 1807. Following the efforts of William Wilberforce and others to secure such a law, ‘we must conclude’, say the authors, ‘that it was finally implemented by William Garrow.’
John Hostettler and Richard Braby (a direct descendent of Garrow) have written a blockbuster of a book, avidly perused not just by the legal fraternity, but by the general public. We now wait expectantly and anxiously for the next TV series as this rediscovered lost advocate is now, rightly, a distinguished 21st century star, two hundred years on, and we are the better for it as the advocacy of the past is unveiled.
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